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Parenting Pains: A Hand Therapist & Mom’s Guide to Parenting Ergonomics

Written by:

Shamaine Soh, OT

Virtual Hand to Shoulder Fellow


Caring for a young child can be the most rewarding job, but it can also be tough physically. Caregivers often do not pay attention to the state of their bodies when doing everyday tasks involved in childcare, as the child’s needs are prioritized above the caregiver's. Sleep deprivation, coupled with the constant repetition of tasks, often in awkward postures, can quickly lead to painful conditions, most commonly affecting the hands, neck, and back.

Whether you are a parent, nanny, or infant care provider, self-care and good ergonomics are essential to maximize efficiency, avoid painful musculoskeletal conditions, and enjoy caring for a young child!

If you are a caregiver for a young child, below are some overuse signs, followed by tips we can apply to prevent them.

Signs and Symptoms of Overuse:

· Pain over localized areas of the hands, wrists, elbow, neck, shoulders.

· Numbness or tingling over digits, hands or upper extremities

· Swelling and warmth over painful areas

· Reduced range of motion due to pain or weakness

Proper ergonomics is essential not only in the work that we do, but also in the daily occupations we undertake when caring for a child. The following are general tips that you can apply to practice better ergonomics during common child care activities:

1. Ergonomic tips for lifting and carrying baby:

· Use larger and stronger joints like your elbows and shoulder to do the positioning and lifting to minimize strain on your wrist. Additionally, it is more ergonomic to keep your wrist in a neutral position most of the time, rather than bent in awkward positions.

· Try to carry your child with two hands instead of one to prevent overloading on one side. If you need to multitask, consider using equipment such as a portable play pan, rocker, or baby carrier to keep your child close to you while you perform tasks around the house. You may also alternate sides to carry your child to allow intermittent breaks of your arms.

· When holding your baby for an extended time, such as during feedings, keep thumbs close to the hand to minimize thumb strain. Use tools like a nursing pillow, nursing chair, or even modify your bed with pillows to ensure you have enough support for your back and arms during prolonged feeding sessions. Experiment with different positioning that allows the most relief for you.

· Keep your back straight when holding your baby. When lifting your baby from the ground, bend at the knees, rather than arching the back to lift. This will also prevent awkward positioning and undue strain of hands and wrists!

· When carrying heavy items such as car seats, strollers, and diaper bags, use the same principles, and keep the weight as close to your body as possible!

2. Ergonomic tips for the nursery and play area to reduce strain on the arm and back:

· Always place things you commonly used items somewhere easily accessible. Always place heavier items around waist height. This will help to reduce the amount of effort and strain over the wrist, arms, and back.

· Consider furniture that reduces the need for excessive arching or bending of the back and awkward wrist positions. For example, use a height-adjustable baby crib, a changing table, and ergonomic baby bathtubs.

· Avoid sitting on the floor for too long without back support. Use the wall for some back support!

· When your child is older, involve them with daily tasks to not only avoid repetitive strain over the wrist and hands, but also having a fun bonding time with your little one!

3. Additional strategies:

· Rest when you can! We know how important rest is to perform any job well, even more so as caregivers. The way you position yourself and your environment plays a role in helping you to rest more. Not to mention having social support to help with caregiving can give you rest when needed.

· Stretch and strengthen your back, forearm and hand muscles to minimise tightness and prevent injury.

· Planning ahead can sometimes help with how you are going about a novel task with your child can help to prevent injuries.

· Make use of ergonomic tools and equipment to help minimise effort and repetition.

· Use modalities like heat and cold to help manage fatigue and pain.

· Use a hand brace or orthosis to help with resting and positioning at night.

· Approach a doctor or hand therapist for more advice if symptoms persist.

Using one of the fundamental skills of activity analysis, hand therapists consider the physical factors at play of a caregiver when performing their daily caregiving activities with the physical and social environment. Describing how a specific activity causes pain allows the hand therapist to treat and advise a caregiver's routine, role, and environment to better suit your needs!

Visit a doctor if you notice persistent symptoms of overuse or pain. Early treatment can result in more effective and efficient resolution of symptoms. Remember that having good self-care will lead to better child care.



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